Students hold walkouts to protest gun violence in schools

(WAFB) - Numerous school walkouts were held across the country Wednesday, including some in Louisiana, in honor of the victims of the Parkland, Florida shooting that left 17 people dead.

Those participating hope their actions help in the push for changes in gun control legislation. Many walkouts started at 10 a.m. across all time zones and lasted for 17 minutes, one minute for each person who died. However, some schools decided to have them at various other times.

Some students in Baton Rouge participated in the walkout. Students from Lee, Baton Rouge, Scotlandville and McKinley high schools were seen walking outside of their schools as part of the nationwide campaign titled #Enough.

National School Walkout: Taking it to the streets (and the playgrounds)

Also in the Baton Rouge area, a walkout of sorts was planned at Dutchtown High School. The students at the school decided that instead of a walkout, they will rally outside of the school just after the last bell to honor those killed. The students plan to gather in the school's parking lot as a peaceful protest against guns.

Students Lilly Wilder and Isabella Cashe participated in the walkout with Baton Rouge International School. "We shouldn't be worried about if somebody is going to walk in with a gun," Wilder said. "We should be worrying about our assignments coming up and playing for college."

Chair of the Louisiana High School Democrats, Charlie Stephens, participated with students at Lee Magnet High School. He says student participation in political conversations is vital. "The walkout is only the first step in this process. There will be follow-up actions," he said.

These high school students turned activists say their support for stiffer guns laws that require tougher mental background checks began before the most recent mass shooting. "This was not one event," Cashe said. "This is one event of many that have happened recently and I think after the first one we might be able to say, 'This is tragedy,' but we can attribute it to these individual factors, but I think once you start to see this type of event repeated, you need to get worried," she said.

Several school leaders and organizations responded to the walkouts. The ACLU of Louisiana sent letters out Monday to all Louisiana public schools advising teachers and staff of students' right to protest. The letter affirms the right of students to engage in political speech and provides guidelines for administrators about how to legally respond to protests.

The ACLU said while the letter was only sent to traditional public school superintendents, the law applies to all publicly funded school, including charter schools.

"Rather than focus on discipline, schools should regard National School Walkout Day as an opportunity for a practical lesson in participatory democracy. We hope that Louisiana school districts foster your students' civic participation and responsibility on National School Walkout Day, and help to ensure the health of our democracy in decades to come," said Jane Johnson, interim executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana.

A copy of the letter sent to school superintendents can be found here.

Students say after countless tragedies over the past several years, the hope for change is renewed, but quickly forgotten. They're trying to make sure this time, the talk for change stays in the forefront. "We're out here to try to revive some of that passion," Wilder said. "Stand up. Use your voice like all teenagers around the country are doing, if you believe in it."

Following the schools walkouts, the East Baton Rouge Parish School System released the following statement:

The East Baton Rouge Parish School System would like to thank the schools that participated in events today to honor all of the students, families, and staff of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. EBRPSS principals and students collaborated to create a respectful atmosphere that would honor the lives lost exactly one month ago in Parkland, Florida. Today's separate student-led programs featured works of poetry, symbolic presentations, somber moments of silence, and a one-mile march. The East Baton Rouge Parish School System is deeply moved by our students' efforts and our thoughts and prayers continue to go out to the students and families who lost loved ones to violence.

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